Friday, October 12, 2018

Easy Date - Pistachio Crescent Cookies

In preparation for next spring's Food Festival, I was asked by the Chair of St. Sarkis’ Women’s Guild to prepare a cookie – specifically one with a date filling - for the members to sample. (It's never too early to plan for such a special event!) 

The Apricot Crescent Cookie recipe I posted ages ago came to mind. I immediately got to work making the cookies, switching the apricot filling for one made with dates.

After the cookies were sampled at last week's meeting,I was invited to include my recipe to their dessert line-up. (I guess they liked it!)

You don’t have to wait until spring to make these. My easy version takes hardly any time to prepare and they'll make an impressive addition to any holiday meal!
My Easy Date-Pistachio Crescent Cookies

Easy Date - Pistachio Crescent Cookies

For the dough:
2 commercially-prepared pie crusts, such as Pillsbury

Filling Ingredients:
1 ½  cups (give or take) commercially prepared date paste (sold in Middle eastern stores)** See recipe below for creating homemade date paste
1 Tbsp. orange blossom water, optional (sold in Middle Eastern stores and Whole Foods)
1-2 Tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. orange zest
¼ cup unsalted, shelled pistachio nuts, finely chopped
Egg wash: 1 egg, beaten
Garnish: additional chopped pistachios and/or coarse sugar, optional

Filling Directions:
In a mixing bowl, combine the filling ingredients –EXCEPT for the nuts - until smooth and spreadable. If the date mixture is too stiff, stir in warm water a little at a time without making the filling too watery. Stir the pistachios into the date mixture until evenly distributed. Set filling aside.

Dough Directions:
Work with one prepared crust at a time. 
On a lightly floured work surface and using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the pie crust dough into a fairly thin large circle.

Assembly Directions:
Rolled pie crust spread with a thin layer of date-pistachio filling
Spread half of the filling on the dough, leaving about ¼ inch of the dough exposed around the edge.

Cut, as you would a pie, into 12 wedges – or more - depending on how large or small you want the cookies to be. (A pizza cutter makes this step very easy!)

Start rolling each wedge starting at the wide end toward the small point. Using your fingers, turn the ends downward to make a crescent-shape. Place cookies on an ungreased baking sheet.

Brush the cookie surfaces with egg wash. Sprinkle additional chopped pistachios and/or coarse sugar, if you wish. Gently press toppings so they adhere.

Bake in a preheated 350°F oven 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Cool cookies completely on wire racks. Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Any leftover cookies can be wrapped and stored in the freezer.

You can make date paste at home. It’s really easy! You just need dates and water. Pitted Medjool dates work extremely well for this.

**Directions to make about 1 cup of Date Paste:
Soak about 12 to 13 pitted dates in warm water (1 to 2 – or more cups, depending on how dry the dates are) for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Scoop the dates out of the water (don’t drain it; you’ll need some of the soaking water) and place them in a blender or food processor with some of the soaking water. (Start with ¼ cup of the soaking water.)

Puree until the mixture is soft and fluffy. If it’s too thick, add a little more of the water.

Store the date paste in a jar with a lid. This should keep in the refrigerator for 7-10 days.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Alphabets and Apples

A few months after Doug and I moved to South Carolina, we bumped into an old NJ friend at the St. Sarkis Food Festival in Charlotte, NC. What a surprise it was to see our friend Andy, whom we hadn’t seen in 50 years!

It turns out that Andy and his wife Linda live just a few miles from us - but just across the state line. We’ve gotten together several times sharing good (Armenian) food and stories of decades gone by.

ALPHABETS:
Recently, Doug and I were invited to their home for a delicious lunch and a tour of the nearby Alphabet Museum, a  truly interesting place!

The museum traces the history of the world’s alphabets in an array of very impressive displays. You can imagine how delighted we were to see the Armenian alphabet exhibit featuring Mesrob Mashdots! His greatest achievement was inventing and systematizing the Armenian alphabet in 406 AD.
A bust of Mesrob (Mesrop) Mashdots at the Alphabet Museum, Waxhaw, NC
APPLES:
After our outting, we headed back to Andy and Linda’s for dessert and coffee. Since it’s officially apple season, my contribution to the meal was an apple galette – a French version of an apple pie. I realize it’s not an Armenian recipe, but at least it was made by one!

Here’s how I made it …
Apple Galette

Quick and Easy Apple Galette
Serves 6 to 8

Crust:
1 commercially-prepared refrigerated pie crust -or- one sheet of puff pastry (I used the pie crust)
Filling:
4 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ¼-inch chunks (I used a combination of Honey Crisp and Fuji apples)
1/3 cup sugar (use more- or- less depending on the sweetness of the apples, and, your own preference)
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
1 ½  to 2 Tbsp. cornstarch or flour
Egg Wash: 1 beaten egg
Garnish with a sprinkling of sugar, if you wish

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Roll the pie crust dough or puff pastry dough into a thin, 12-inch circle. Place it on an ungreased baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meantime, mix together all of the filling ingredients, tossing gently to coat apples.

Remove crust from the refrigerator and uncover. Arrange the apples in a mound in the center of the crust, leaving a 2-inch border of dough.

Gently fold the dough edge over the apples, pleating loosely as you go. Leave the apples in the center uncovered.

Brush dough surface with egg wash. Lightly sprinkle sugar over the crust and apples, if you like.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.

Cool galette on the baking sheet for 10-15 minutes, then carefully slide it onto a wire rack to cool completely. Carefully transfer the galette onto a serving platter.

To Serve: The galette is delicious on its own, but may also be served with freshly whipped cream or a good-quality ice cream.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Belgian Endive with Roquefort, Walnuts and Cranberries, by Chef David Vartanian

Way back in 2011, I introduced Christine Vartanian-Datian to the readers of The Armenian Kitchen. In the story I mentioned that Christine’s love of cooking was passed down from her grandmother and mother. Another family member, Christine’s cousin, David Vartanian, also inherited the ‘cooking gene’. He is a highly regarded chef  at The Vintage Press in Visalia, CA.

 David Vartanian ,The Vintage Press, Visalia, CA, named one of America’s Best Chefs

I haven’t been to the Fresno, CA area in almost 50 years (yikes!), but if I ever do get back there, I will certainly pay a visit to Chef Vartanian’s restaurant. (Please read the full details below.)

Christine offered the following recipe from Chef David for The Armenian Kitchen to share. Please enjoy!  
Chef David's Belgian Endive with Roquefort, Walnuts and Cranberries

Chef David Vartanian's Belgian Endive with Roquefort, Walnuts and Cranberries
This salad with crunchy walnuts is for real blue cheese lovers.  Pair with a grilled steak or lamb chops and boiled baby red skin potatoes for a classic steak house meal.
Serves 4.
Ingredients for Roquefort Dressing:
1/4 cup Roquefort cheese
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 limes, juice of
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Pinch black pepper

Ingredients for Salad:
4 heads Belgian endive
1/2 cup cranberries, dried
1/2 cup California walnuts, coarsely chopped
4 ounces Roquefort cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup Roquefort dressing, prepared

Preparation for Roquefort dressing:
1. Melt Roquefort cheese in the oven or in a pan on top of the stove, being very careful not to scorch. Let cool.
2. In a bowl, combine the melted cheese, mayonnaise, buttermilk, juice of two limes, Worcestershire Sauce, cayenne, red wine vinegar, and black pepper; mix well until all ingredients are combined. If desired, add an additional 2 ounces of Roquefort cheese for an even more intense flavor.

Salad Preparation:
1. Trim the base of the endive using a diagonal cut, then separate the leaves.
2. Toss the cranberries, nuts and Roquefort together in a bowl, being careful not to break up the Roquefort too much.
3. Spoon the mixture into the endive leaves and garnish with the watercress.  For advance preparation: Fill the Belgian endive leaves up to three hours before, cover and chill.  Garnish just before serving.  Drizzle with Roquefort Salad Dressing, as desired.  

******
The Vintage Press Restaurant, in Visalia, California is one of Central California's most elegant dining experiences. Since 1966, the Vartanian family has welcomed local residents, visitors and dignitaries alike on many special occasions.  Wine Spectator writes that the Vintage Press has "one of the best wine lists in the world," while Fodor's raves it is "The best restaurant in the Central Valley.”  The L.A. Times applauds the Vintage Press as "a bastion of culinary merit."  With four distinctive rooms and classic menus that reflect the current season, the Vintage Press invites you to join them at your earliest opportunity. The Vintage Press is renowned for its outstanding food and service.  Critics believe this is the best restaurant in the Sequoia region and a true fine-dining experience, with white tablecloths, plush red leather banquettes and exceptional service.  The Vintage Press serves classic beef, lamb, seafood and specialty dishes. The exceptional menu encompasses a wide range of influences, meaning you could order the excellent lamb kebobs while your companion feasts on spicy chile relleno.  Classic American dishes and pastas are well done, especially the restaurant’s famed filet mignon. The wine list is similarly superlative. 

"Best Place in Visalia!”

“The VP, as it's commonly called, is the finest restaurant in Visalia. The food is always amazing. The service is impeccable. And the atmosphere provides an elegant feeling. Outstanding restaurant!”
- Trip Advisor, 2016

"A Favorite for Everyone”
“This fine dining establishment is a favorite for everyone in the area as well as for many who drive long distances to enjoy a fabulous meal. You can't go wrong whether you choose from the menu or from the always interesting list of specials for the day. The chef, David Vartanian, should have a TV show about farm to table ingredients as well as unusual takes on the familiar. From comfort food to exotic fare, he is a master.”
- Trip Advisor, 2017

http://thevintagepress.com/images/mainrm.jpg
THE VINTAGE PRESS
216 N. Willis St.
Visalia, CA 93291
Phone: (559) 733-3033
http://www.thevintagepress.com/
Featuring upscale, classic cuisine with a creative twist and farm to table sensibility.
Open for Lunch, Dinner or Sunday Brunch.

Friday, September 21, 2018

CHICK BRTUJ (Meatless Kyufta) from Sonia Tashjian

Today is Armenian Independence Day! To help celebrate,
Sonia Tashjian, my go-to food expert in Yerevan, offered her recipe for Chick Brtuj - Meatless Kyufta (Kufteh) to share with you.  
Sonia Tashjian's Chick Brtuj (Meatless kufteh) with Onion-Tomato Dipping Sauce

Traditional Kufteh is made with fine bulgur mixed with finely ground meat for the shell, and then stuffed with a spiced meat-onion filling. It's sometimes shaped like a small football (my maternal grandmother's style), or flattened on the bottom with a rounded top (my paternal grandmother's style) - somewhat like a flying saucer -at least, that's what we thought, as kids.

Sonia's meatless kufteh is perfect for a vegetarian or Lenten meal.

Sonia explains:

"'Chick' means "chga" - or - 'there is none - or - without' and the Armenian name of such kyuftas is 'brtuj', which means a portion prepared in the palm.
(other synonyms are sekhem & jankig).....
Therefore, chick - brtuj (or chick kyufta) means this is a meatless dish.

This recipe is the everyday version of uncooked meat brtuj, or chi kufteh. 
(Nowdays when we say chick kyufta, we understand it to be the meat version; but in the old books, there is mention about this non-meat kyufta)."

Sonia's recipe:

1)- Mix 1 Tbsp. of red pepper paste into 1 cup of fine bulghur; set aside.
2)- Finely chop 1 medium onion + 1 tomato + 1 green or red pepper.
3)- Mix together, knead it by pouring olive oil; season with red & black pepper, cumin & lemon juice.
4)- Blend it in a food processor if necessary.
5)- Mix in chopped mint leaves & parsley;
6)- Shape brtuj to resemble little sausages using wet hands. 

Serve with onion - tomato sauce.

To prepare sauce:
Dilute some water into 4 Tbsp. tomato paste until it can pour thickly from a spoon. Mix in finely chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

And then came Hurricane Florence

Please see update below ...

Would you like to hear a not-so-funny story?

Doug and I moved to inland South Carolina 6 months ago after a 40-year run in south Florida. Our reasons for leaving included the excessive heat, humidity, and annoying hurricane seasons. We’d had enough!

Our new location suits our needs: an Armenian church in Charlotte, proximity to a major airport (so we can visit family and travel to exotic locations), and to avoid the impact of  hurricanes.

And then came Hurricane Florence - barreling into the North and South Carolina coasts! We’re pretty far inland, but  Florence is headed our way as a tropical storm ready to dump A LOT of rain. Power outages are imminent as is major flooding.
So, I’m trying to write and post this before the lights go out.

Are we prepared? You bet. Bottled water, gas grill, canned food, batteries, flashlights, board games, etc.
Right now we’re eating whatever is in the freezer so these foods won’t go to waste.


Freezer foods we must consume!
I don’t know what my neighbors are chowing-down on, but here’s what Doug and I have to consume from the freezer- and fast:
Lahmajoun, kufteh, basterma, lavash, fillo dough (you know, the usual!) and a few other goodies.


I’ll end here so that I can get cooking before it’s too late. I’ll be back after the storm leaves and power is restored.

Until then …


Update: Florence will be a tropical storm when it reaches us. This doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods; it just means the winds won’t be as fierce. The rain is another story.
After I posted the original piece, I got busy in the kitchen and whipped up a tray of spinach pie with the on-hand ingredients (recipe follows). Since the oven was on I heated up some lahmajoun as well. A mini side salad, parsley and onions completed our 'hurricane' lunch. Not a bad meal under the circumstances!
Out of the freezer and into the oven - while we still have electricity!


The Armenian Kitchen's 'Hurricane' Lunch

Easy Spinach Pie

Ingredients:
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1-15 oz. bag frozen, chopped spinach, thawed, and squeezed dry (This is very important!)
1- 4 oz. container crumbled Feta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. Greek-style plain yogurt
2 Tbsp. melted butter
Salt, pepper, dried dill, dried oregano, to taste (Note: Go easy on the salt as the Feta cheese provides plenty!)
Fillo dough sheets (I used 5 sheets for this.)
4 Tbsp. melted butter for brushing

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Lightly grease an 8” x 11” baking pan.

In a skillet, sauté the sliced onions in olive oil, until onion is softened, but not browned. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, combined all of the ingredients except the fillo dough and the brushing butter.

Open the fillo pkg. and remove the sheets, covering them with a lightly dampened tea towel and plastic wrap to prevent the sheets from drying out.

Working with one sheet at a time, place in the baking dish so that the sheets hang over the 2 long sides. Brush each sheet with butter until the 5 sheets are used.

Spread the spinach mixture evenly over the fillo sheets which cover the bottom of the baking pan. Fold the hanging fillo sheets toward the center, brushing with extra melted butter, if necessary. Make sure the fillo dough covers the spinach filling. Brush additional butter on the top fillo layer.

Using a sharp knife, cut through the layers into serving pieces.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until top is golden brown.


Saturday, September 8, 2018

Garbanzo Bean and Vegetable Soup by Christine Vartanian Datian

It might still be pretty hot outside, but cooler days are on the horizon. Pumpkins and gourds are already on display in supermarkets, and believe it or not, Christmas decorations are hitting the shelves in certain stores!

It’s safe to say that a good soup recipe is always appropriate to post. Here’s the latest contribution by Christine Datian to both the Armenian Mirror-Spectator – and – The Armenian Kitchen. (Thanks, Chris!)

Enjoy, everyone!!
Christine Datian's Garbanzo Bean and Vegetable Soup

Garbanzo Bean and Vegetable Soup
by Christine Vartanian Datian
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

2 - 16 oz. cans reduced sodium garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2-3 tablespoons olive oil or unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, chopped (white, brown or yellow)
2 stalks celery (and top greens), chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium baking potato or sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 medium red or green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 pound spinach, rinsed, stems removed, and chopped*
8 cups reduced sodium chicken, beef broth or vegetable broth (to taste)
1 8 oz. can reduced sodium tomato sauce or tomato juice
1 -14.5 oz. can stewed or crushed tomatoes or 1 cup fresh diced tomatoes
1/4 cup fine bulgur
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried crushed mint
1 bay leaf
Salt, black pepper, dash of allspice
Crushed red pepper flakes, cumin, smoked paprika, basil, oregano or Aleppo pepper (to taste)
Olive oil
Garnishes: Chopped fresh mint, basil or parsley

Preparation:

In a large Dutch oven or pot, sauté garlic, onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, and peppers in olive oil or butter for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add garbanzo beans, broth, tomato sauce or juice, tomatoes, bulgur, lemon juice, and tomato paste, stir and bring to a full boil; add spinach, mint, bay leaf and spices and stir to combine.  Reduce heat, cover, and cook for 45-55 minutes or until tender.  Stir soup occasionally and add more broth or spices as needed.

Remove bay leaf.  Mash beans and potatoes if a thicker consistency is desired.  Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with choice of mint, basil or parsley.  

Drizzle with olive oil and serve with pita bread, garlic bread or bread sticks.

**Suggestions
Spinach may be pan-fried in olive oil and garlic and added to this soup.  Garnish with Armenian or Greek yogurt or sour cream.  Or you can add 1/4 cup chopped dried dates or apricots to this recipe, if desired.

*Christine’s recipes have been published in the Fresno Bee newspaper, Sunset magazine, Cooking Light magazine, and at http://www.thearmeniankitchen.com/



Friday, August 31, 2018

Avocado Hummus, a classic dish at Momed Restaurant, Beverly Hills, CA

The back yard of our second house in south Florida was a small garden of Eden. We had a prolific mango tree, 2 abundant avocado trees, grapefruit and orange trees, and a small Meyer lemon tree. We loved that yard and all that it provided.

Back then the only recipe I made with the avocados was guacamole. The avocado has become more sophisticated in its recipe applications, and I’ve tried to branch-out in my use of them, too.

Today you’ll find avocados used in omelets (I love a crab-avocado omelet!), pastas, salads, salad dressings, soups, desserts – such as mousse and ice cream, cocktails (margaritas), of course, the very popular, often expensive menu item - avocado toast, and naturally, hummus.

There’s a restaurant in Beverly Hills, CA called Momed, short for modern Mediterranean. The owner, Alex Sarkissian, has been serving avocado hummus at his establishment ever since it opened almost ten years ago. He calls this particular hummus one of his ‘classic dishes’, in fact, a ‘superstar’- on the menu.  
Image result for avocado hummus momed
California Cookbook - LA Times: Momed's Avocado Hummus
Their recipe is a simple blend of pureed avocados with garlic, lime and lemon juice, tahini, cumin and a touch of salt – no chick peas required. Mr. Sarkissian notes that the recipe does not taste like guacamole due to the addition of tahini.

Dana Slatkin, chef, Culinary Institute of America grad and cookbook author interviewed Mr. Sarkissian when his restaurant first opened. He shared the avocado hummus recipe with her, and I’m passing it on to you.

(See my quickie version below!)

Momed’s Avocado Hummus
Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients:
2 medium ripe avocados
1/4 cup tahini (ground sesame) paste
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons ground cumin (preferably toasted until fragrant)
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (optional)
Sea salt, to taste

Directions:
In a food processor, blend all the ingredients except the oil. Through the top of the machine, slowly pour in the oil (You may not need to use it all.). Season to taste with salt and transfer to a serving bowl.

Notes: If you’re not serving this immediately, place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the hummus to prevent discoloration. Can be made 1 day ahead.

If you prefer a heartier hummus, Dana suggests blending-in ½ cup or more of canned, drained, chick peas.


Serve with pita bread triangles, pita chips, crackers, and/or vegetable sticks

FYI: avocado hummus tastes really good on toast!



My quickie version of Avocado Hummus:
My super-quick version of Avocado Hummus

I had one small, ripe Hass avocado waiting to be used. After peeling and de-seeding it, I added about a teaspoon or 2 of tahini, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and a sprinkling of salt, cumin and garlic powder. Mashed it with a fork until smooth and served it on thin crunchy crackers. 



Friday, August 24, 2018

Mama Ghanoush - a great name for a tasty appetizer!


The Armenian Kitchen's Mama Ghanoush garnished with toasted pine nuts.
Doug likes to browse through Middle Eastern restaurant menus online. One day he showed me an amazing menu, each dish sounding more incredible than the next.

The one that caught my eye was 'Mama Ghanoush'. I don't know how it got it's name, but it's the zucchini version of the eggplant-based dish, Baba Ghanoush

Mama Ghanoush isn’t a new recipe, but I’d never seen it on a restaurant menu before now.

Hoping the restaurant was nearby, I enthusiastically asked Doug its name and how soon could we go.

In a soft voice, he reluctantly stated, "The restaurant is called Batchig and it’s in, um, Lebanon."

Lebanon?? Thanks a lot, Doug!! Right away I knew we wouldn’t be dining there anytime soon.

Special Note: Batchig means ‘kiss’, in Armenian. 

Coincidentally, a few days later, I saw a recipe on Face Book for ‘Mama Ghanouj’ – from Oh My Veggies website. 

I took this as a sign that it was time for me to prepare it.

Here is my adapted version of Mama Ghanoush … 
(Note: recipe name spellings often vary.)

Mama Ghanoush
Yields about 1 to 1-1/2  cups

Ingredients:

2 medium to large zucchini (about 1-1/2 to 2 lbs.), washed, unpeeled (Note: Zucchini may be left whole or sliced in half lengthwise, depending on size.)
1/4 c. tahini, well-stirred
1/2 tsp. ground cumin, optional
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt, or to taste
Juice from 1 large lemon
1 or 2 medium cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling on top

Garnishing options: toasted pine nuts, ground cumin, chopped parsley, za'atar, olive oil.

Directions:

Wash each zucchini and pat dry. Slice in half lengthwise, or, leave whole. Lightly oil the zucchini's surface.
Oiled zucchini halves in a lightly oiled stove top grill pan. 
Grilled zucchini halves 
Place zucchini directly on the heated grill grates. Grill, turning from time to time, until softened and lightly charred. Grilling can be done on the stove top using a grill pan, or broiled in the oven, but, turn every so often so they cook evenly.
(I used a stove top grill pan.)
Grilled zuchini chunks
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Slice off the top and the bottom off each zucchini and cut them into large chunks.

In a small mixing bowl combine tahini, cumin, salt, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil until well-blended.

Place grilled zucchini chunks and tahini mixture in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle additional olive oil on the top.

Garnish with toasted pine nuts, additional ground cumin, chopped parsley, or za'atar, if desired.

Serve with an assortment of fresh vegetable sticks, pita bread triangles, pita chips, or crackers.